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Dodgers’ NLDS Game 5 loss is on Dave Roberts

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The Dodgers are out of the playoffs much earlier than anticipated after dropping Game 5 of the NLDS to the Nationals on Wednesday night. After comfortably leading the Nationals 3-0 through five innings and 3-1 through seven, the Dodgers’ bullpen — specifically Clayton Kershaw and Joe Kelly — forked over the lead. The Nationals were off to the races, ultimately winning 7-3 in 10 innings.

Here’s what transpired:

  • Manager Dave Roberts brought Kershaw in for the final out of the seventh inning in relief of starter Walker Buehler, who exited with runners on first and second and two outs
  • Kershaw remained in the game in the eighth, immediately serving up back-to-back solo home runs to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, tying the game at 3-3
  • Kelly entered the game in the ninth inning, working a 1-2-3 inning
  • Kelly remained in the game in the 10th inning, loading the bases with no outs on a walk, a ground-rule double, and an intentional walk before surrendering a go-ahead grand slam to Howie Kendrick

Dodgers fans and people who have watched the Dodgers in recent years saw that happening from a mile away. Consider Dodgers fan and Baseball Prospectus editor-in-chief Craig Goldstein, who tweeted on Monday, “Already getting annoyed at how the Dodgers are going to use Kershaw in Game 5 […] when they don’t need to anyway because their bullpen is good enough to not have to turn to a starter when Buehler is throwing.

Bullpen management is not Roberts’ strong suit, especially in the playoffs. Here’s an article Craig wrote last postseason about Roberts’ bullpen management. How about one from 2017? And here’s one from me in 2016, just for good measure.

Roberts compounded his error by gambling on Kelly after he pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the ninth. Kelly went multiple innings in eight of his 55 appearances during the regular season. He allowed nine runs in total across those 12 1/3 innings. Kelly was also coming off of a disastrous Game 3 appearance in which he loaded the bases on two walks and a single, uncorked a wild pitch, and walked another batter before leaving without recording an out. Kelly’s 10th inning in Game 5 went: walk, ground-rule double, intentional walk, grand slam. His 1-2-3 ninth inning was less predictable than that.

The Dodgers’ bullpen as a unit isn’t bad. Its aggregate 3.85 ERA ranked fifth in baseball. Its 4.06 FIP ranked sixth and 4.25 xFIP seventh. Closer Kenley Jansen appeared in the NLDS just once, with a six-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 3. Pedro Báez recorded two outs in the series, one apiece in Game 2 and 4. Adam Kolarek held Soto 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in three at-bats previously in the series. None of them were used in Game 5 in meaningful situations. The Dodgers paid dearly for Roberts’ lack of confidence in the rest of his bullpen.

Kershaw and Kelly are going to take some heat for their failures in Game 5. It’s not squarely on their shoulders. Roberts didn’t put them in a position to succeed. He mismanaged his bullpen again and now a team that won 106 games during the regular season will not advance into the NLCS. One wonders if this loss might be so bad that it costs Roberts his job in L.A.

Major League Baseball threatens to walk away from Minor League Baseball entirely

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The war between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball escalated significantly last night, with Minor League Baseball releasing a memo accusing Major League Baseball of “repeatedly and inaccurately” describing the former’s stance in negotiations and Major League Baseball responding by threatening to cut ties with Minor League Baseball entirely.

As you’re no doubt aware, negotiations of the next, 10-year Professional Baseball Agreement, which governs the relationship between the big leagues and the minors — and which is set to expire following the 2020 season — have turned acrimonious. Whereas past negotiations have been quick and uncontroversial, this time Major League Baseball presented Minor League Baseball with a plan to essentially contract 42 minor league baseball teams by eliminating their major league affiliation while demanding that Minor League Baseball undertake far more of the financial burden of player development which is normally the responsibility of the majors.

That plan became public in October when Baseball America reported on it, after which elected officials such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren began weighing in on the side of Minor League Baseball. Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball were not happy with all of that and, on Wednesday, Manfred bashed Minor League Baseball for taking the negotiations public and accused Minor League Baseball of intransigence, saying the minors had assumed a “take it or leave it” negotiating stance.

Last night Minor League Baseball bashed back in the form of a four-page public memo countering Manfred’s claims, with point-point-by-point rebuttals of Major League Baseball’s talking points on various matters ranging from stadium facilities, team travel, and player health and welfare. You can read the memo in this Twitter thread from Josh Norris of Baseball America.

Major League Baseball responded with its own public statement last night. But rather than publicly rebut Minor League Baseball’s claims, it threatened to simply drop any agreement with Minor League Baseball and, presumably start its own minor league system bypassing MiLB entirely:

“If the National Association [of Minor League Clubs] has an interest in an agreement with Major League Baseball, it must address the very significant issues with the current system at the bargaining table. Otherwise, MLB clubs will be free to affiliate with any minor league team or potential team in the United States, including independent league teams and cities which are not permitted to compete for an affiliate under the current agreement.”

So, in the space of about 48 hours, Manfred has gone from being angry at the existence of public negotiations to negotiating in public, angrily.

As for Minor League Baseball going public itself, one Minor League Baseball owner’s comments to the Los Angeles Times seems to sum up the thinking pretty well:

“Rob is attempting to decimate the industry, destroy baseball in communities and eliminate thousands of jobs, and he’s upset that the owners of the teams have gone public with that information in an effort to save their teams. That’s rich.”

Things, it seems, are going to get far worse before they get better. If, in fact, they do get better.